Seize the Day English summary

Seize the Day

Key Information:

Author: Saul Bellow (1915 – 2005)

Published Date: “Seize the Day” was first published in 1956.

Genre: The novella belongs to the genre of literary fiction.

Time Setting: The story takes place over the course of a single day in the 1950s.

Place Setting: The majority of the story is set in New York City, specifically in and around the Hotel Gloriana.


Identity: The novel examines the struggle for self-identity in a modern, urban society. Tommy Wilhelm is searching for meaning in his life and trying to come to terms with his failures and regrets.

Self-discovery: Throughout the novel, Tommy Wilhelm undergoes a process of self-discovery as he reflects on his past, confronts his fears and anxieties, and tries to make sense of his life.

The Pursuit of Happiness: The novel explores the human desire for happiness and fulfillment and the challenges and obstacles that can prevent us from achieving these goals.

Main Characters:

Tommy Wilhelm: The protagonist of the story, Tommy is a middle-aged man who is going through a series of personal and financial crises. He is divorced, unemployed, and struggling to find a purpose in life. Tommy is constantly seeking validation and approval from his father and others, and he embarks on a journey of self-discovery throughout the novella. Catherine is his sister.

Wilhelm Adler: Tommy’s father, Wilhelm Adler, is a successful and wealthy businessman. He has a strained relationship with his son and is often dismissive and critical of Tommy’s choices and failures. Wilhelm’s disapproval and constant comparisons to his more successful brother add to Tommy’s feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.

Dr. Tamkin: Dr. Tamkin is a mysterious and manipulative character who befriends Tommy. He presents himself as a psychiatrist and financial advisor, offering Tommy advice on how to improve his life. However, his motivations and intentions remain unclear throughout the story, and he is seen as a somewhat unreliable and dubious character.

Margaret: Tommy’s ex-wife, who he is still deeply in love with. Margaret represents Tommy’s past and his desire for a simpler, happier life.

Olive: Olive is a woman Tommy meets at the hotel where he stays. She is a prostitute who offers Tommy companionship and solace during his time of despair. Olive acts as a sympathetic ear and provides Tommy with a brief respite from his troubles.

Wilhelm’s brothers: Tommy has two brothers, Arthur and Julius, who are more successful and financially stable than he is. Their success highlights Tommy’s feelings of inadequacy and fuels his desire for a better life.


“Seize the Day” by Saul Bellow is a novella that follows the story of Tommy Wilhelm, a middle-aged man grappling with various personal and financial crises in New York City. The novella is divided into several scenes. Each scene captures a different aspect of Tommy’s struggles and his attempts to seize the day and find meaning in his life.

Scene 1: Tommy’s Apartment

The story begins in Tommy’s shabby apartment, where he wakes up and reflects on his current situation. The room is described as cluttered and disorganized, mirroring Tommy’s chaotic state of mind. He contemplates his failed marriage, his strained relationship with his father, and his lack of success in his career.

Scene 2: Tommy’s Father’s Office

Tommy visits his father, Dr. Adler, in his office. The setting is a stark contrast to Tommy’s apartment. The office is polished and orderly, reflecting Dr. Adler’s professional success. Tommy seeks financial assistance from his father, but their conversation quickly devolves into a bitter argument. It highlights the strained dynamics between them.

Scene 3: The Stock Exchange

Tommy heads to the stock exchange hoping to make some quick money through trading. The scene is chaotic and frenetic, with traders shouting and rushing around. Tommy feels lost and overwhelmed amidst the chaos, symbolizing his lack of direction and purpose in life.

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Scene 4: The Funeral Home

Tommy attends the funeral of his estranged friend, Tothero. The atmosphere is somber, and Tommy reflects on the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death. He realizes the importance of cherishing the present moment and not squandering opportunities for happiness.

Scene 5: The Restaurant

Tommy meets his ex-wife, Margaret, at a restaurant for lunch. The setting is elegant and refined, providing a contrast to Tommy’s usual surroundings. Their conversation reveals their past grievances and the emotional baggage that still lingers between them. Tommy longs for reconnection, but their meeting only serves to emphasize their irreconcilable differences.

Scene 6: The Medical Office

Tommy visits Dr. Tamkin, a quack psychologist, seeking guidance and support. The office is cluttered with eccentric artifacts, reflecting Dr. Tamkin’s unconventional methods. Tommy engages in lengthy discussions with Dr. Tamkin, who offers dubious advice and dubious promises of success. The scene highlights Tommy’s vulnerability and desperation for someone to provide him with answers.

Scene 7: The Hotel Room

Tommy retreats to a cheap hotel room, overwhelmed by his mounting failures and the weight of his existential crisis. The room is dilapidated, symbolizing his deteriorating mental state. He confronts his insecurities and grapples with the fear of facing his true self.

Scene 8: The Rooftop

In the final scene, Tommy climbs to the rooftop of the hotel. The setting offers a panoramic view of the city, representing the possibilities and potential that await him. Tommy experiences a moment of clarity and acceptance. He faces his insecurities and struggles with his fear of facing his true self.

Throughout “Seize the Day,” Saul Bellow masterfully portrays Tommy Wilhelm’s journey through various scenes, capturing the essence of his struggles and his quest for meaning. The vivid descriptions of the settings not only provide a backdrop for the story but also serve as metaphors for Tommy’s emotional state and the challenges he faces.

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Mottaleb Hossain
Mottaleb Hossain

This is Motaleb Hossain, working on studying, a researcher on English literature and Theology.

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